I always start my tutoring sessions and classes with a check-in: “How are you doing? Is anything new?” Since the stay-at-home and social distancing measures went into effect nearly three months ago, my students’ responses have all been sounding the same: “nothing,” “not much,” and “I’m okay, I guess.”
With limited class time and nowhere to go (and now that school is winding down), my students are spending most of their time in front of screens: phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. As one student said, “Netflix is definitely earning their money right now.”
I understand how our students are feeling. I, too, am staring at screens most of my day. But, I’ve found that sitting down each day with a book from my “to be read” pile helps me relax and unwind.
I’ve written about this subject before, and I might sound like a broken record, but reading teaches us more than just what’s on the page. Reading allows us to step outside of our own lives and our own worldviews to learn about and consider another person or character’s perspective. It helps us make sense of the world and allows us to leave our stress behind for a little bit – which can be quite a comfort in these unpredictable and uncertain times.
So, I encourage my students who feel bored and restless to turn off their screens (with the exception of Kindles and other e-readers) and pick up a book. I ask them what type of book they would like to read, what interests them, and what they would like to learn more about. Together, we come up with a reading plan that incorporates a story or topic they like, as well as lessons and exercises to help them improve specific reading and writing skills. And each week, many of these students actually read more than what I ask them to and have questions about what they read.
It’s important right now to encourage students’ curiosities. That’s what’s going to keep them interested in the world around them and keep them motivated to learn more.
It’s easy to fall into a routine of watching Netflix, but it’s also easy to fall into a routine for reading a little bit each day. And to help with that, I’ve compiled a list of books that students might be interested in based on some of the TV shows or movies they’re watching:
High School Students:
For those who like the mystery and thrill of shows like Riverdale, Sherlock, and Criminal Minds: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None
In this murder mystery, ten strangers are summoned to an isolated island mansion by a mysterious “U.N. Owen.” A recorded dinner message reveals the guilt secrets of each of the ten strangers, and then one by one they begin to die… (Also a good read for middle school students!)
For the future doctor who watches House or Grey’s Anatomy: Steven Johnson’s Ghost Map or Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone
Both works detail the spread of diseases (cholera in Ghost Map, Ebola in The Hot Zone) and the scientists, medical professionals, and public officials who race to understand the source of the deadly outbreaks. These true stories intertwine science, medicine, and human behavior in impossible-to-put-down narratives.
For the student who wants to better understand social justice issues: John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me
A white journalist goes “undercover” as an unemployed black man in the Deep South in the 1950s to document racial injustices. What he discovers goes beyond his expectations and fears. Griffin’s account is a story of prejudice, hate, and fear, but he also stumbles upon kindness as he struggles to comprehend what it is like to be an African American in the Deep South.
For the history buff fascinated by the strength and bravery of Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown: Liza Mundy’s Code Girls
More than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. Recruited by the United States Army and Navy, these women moved to Washington to serve their country. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them.
For the adventurous spirit who loves The Hunger Games trilogy (movies or book!): Suzanne Collins’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Released only a few weeks ago, this is the prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy. Before President Coriolanus Snow was… well, president… he was a mentor in the Games, fighting to restore the reputation of his family. Essentially, this is a villain origin story for Katniss Everdeen’s #1 enemy.
For the hero who wants to save the world with the Avengers or the Justice League: Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider: Stormbreaker series
Sadly, there are no characters with supernatural powers. But, there are spies and missions! 14-year-old Alex Rider’s uncle mysteriously dies in a car accident. Then, Alex discovers his uncle was a British spy Britain’s top secret intelligence agency. Now, that agency wants Alex to finish his uncle’s mission to stop a tech genius…
For the fan of Frozen (or any Disney princess movie, for that matter) who can’t stop singing “Let It Go”: Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted
At her birth, Ella of Frell receives a gift from a fairy: the “gift” of obedience. Ella must obey every order, whether it’s to hop on one foot or chop off her head. But Ella is stubborn, and does her best to fight her gift. Filled with princes, ogres, giants, wicked step sisters, and fairy godmothers, this spin on Cinderella will keep you on your toes!
And for any students looking for a bit more structured reading plan, our summer Enrichment programs for middle and high school students start soon!